How can you decide if launching a membership program is right for your organization? To gain some insights, I talked with Gayle L. Gifford of Cause & Effect Inc. With over 30 years of experience providing consulting services to nonprofits, Gayle has seen many organizations grapple with membership programs and I was eager to pick her brain.
If you’re just beginning to explore whether a membership program is the right tool to help you meet your fundraising goals, here are four key questions to ask yourself:
What is your goal?
Membership can be a good way to recruit supporters and build loyalty; it offers members a sense of belonging. But it also requires quite of bit of effort to manage successfully. Consider your goal carefully and ask yourself if it could be accomplished through any of your existing fundraising efforts, or by augmenting your existing efforts. For example, you could establish giving levels or tiers as a stewardship tool to encourage donors to increase their giving.
What are the membership benefits?
Members typically receive benefits, which can be intangible or tangible. Intangible benefits include the satisfaction of knowing they’re supporting a mission that matters to them. Tangible benefits, on the other hand, are perks like mugs, tote bags, or discounted admission to events. Be aware that tangible benefits can impact the tax deductibility of membership.
Consider the cost of delivering membership benefits; not just the cost of producing the items and shipping them to your members, but also the staff time it will require, and the space you’ll need to store items and shipping supplies.
How will you track expiration dates?
It can be tempting to think of a membership program as a “set and forget” fundraising tool. But if you want those membership renewal funds to come in year after year, you can’t rely on the obedience of your members alone. In order to retain your members, you need to have a process in place to solicit renewals each year, and you’ll need a system like Little Green Light to manage and track your memberships successfully.
Think carefully about how your organization will handle expiration dates. Organizations with calendar-year expirations, such as December 31 expirations, can expect an especially heavy workload of renewal and reminder mailings during one season of the year, though it’s important to note that reminders will need to be multiple times during the year in order to retain members. Organizations that base expiration dates on each member’s anniversary date will need to manage renewal and reminder mailings on an ongoing basis throughout the entire year.
Do you have the staff capacity to manage a membership program?
It takes dedicated time and effort to launch and maintain a successful membership program. Can your current staff take on the added workload in addition to their existing responsibilities, or will you need to add a team member to oversee your membership program?
In my conversation with Gayle L. Gifford, she made it clear that successful membership programs don’t happen by accident. While a carefully thought out, well-run membership program can boost your organization’s network of supporters, there’s a lot to consider before racing to launch one. Think carefully about what it will entail, and consider whether your goal can be achieved through an existing fundraising effort. Thanks to Gayle for sharing her time and knowledge!